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Joan Connor, Published July 12 2009

Real debate squelched in W. Fargo

I do not accept the West Fargo administration’s recommendation to terminate Jeremy Murphy’s extracurricular position as The Packer newspaper adviser. There’s time to make this right. There’s time to make a good and sound decision regarding the education policies and practices that best benefit and represent the viewpoints and interests of the students, staff and community of the West Fargo School District.

It appears the recent turn of events in the West Fargo School District is representative of a larger and further-reaching problem within the schools of West Fargo … that of an atmosphere of mistrust and a lack of open and honest communication and confidence between the constituency and the management of our school system.

Furthermore, Tom Gentzkow, the School Board president, has declined repeated requests from both students and me to speak publicly at the board meeting on Monday in opposition of the termination of Murphy’s extracurricular position as newspaper adviser. I am deeply disappointed in view of this action.

The Packer newspaper has won several awards, including this year’s “Best in Show” and “Journalist of the Year” for North Dakota. At the National Scholastic Press Association, The Packer’s supplemental edition has been in the top 10 for several years. The school administration has not recommended Murphy’s termination as newspaper adviser because of any impropriety by students or their adviser. Rather, the administration has indicated it has some vague problem with the “tone” of the newspaper.

As educators we provide opportunities for students to have “teachable moments.” We teach students to think critically, research and debate a variety of issues; so they can be informed citizens. Terminating an adviser who allows students to demonstrate those skills seems contradictory. What are these students learning about journalism and the student free press as a result of this experience? Schools should be representative of academic and personal freedom. By squelching students’ voices and terminating their adviser, the School Board will be in direct violation of this basic right.

The administration has made the wrong recommendation. It is time for the School Board to make this right. It is time to support recommendations that are reflective of the views and shared interests of the constituents of the West Fargo School District. We would view this as a positive first step in reopening the doors of communication that have been closed for too long.

Connor is president of the West Fargo Education Association